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CRF’s Top 6 suggestions in supporting former refugees

Making Change: CRF’s Top 6 suggestions in supporting former refugees

Tayyaba Khan

As New Zealand becomes increasingly involved in the current Syrian refugee crisis I am reminded of a quote by Martin Luther King almost 49 years ago now when he led 5000 people down State Street in Chicago to protest the war in Vietnam. King said, “Those who love peace must learn to organize as effectively as those who love war”, and though his quote speaks to the context of its time it could not be more relevant for us peace-loving New Zealanders today. A new year for most people signifies a new beginning, and at ChangeMakers Refugee Forum we are starting the year with the goal to organise for peace. Because King also said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

2016 much like 2015 has started with tragedies such as the tightening of EU borders to the ongoing crisis of Syrian refugees, suicide bombings in Istanbul, Quetta, and only days ago the bomb blasts in Jakarta. Human life is becoming insufferably cheap. The first and third world have a common denominator – terrorism is everyone’s problem. The difference is some of us are better equipped than others in how we can respond.

When the image of Aylan Kurdi’s washed up body was smeared across television, social media, and print in September last year the Independent reported that 20 million people had seen the image within 12 hours. Research conducted by Sheffield University on the impact of the images found that it not only engaged a global audience, but found an increase in the use of the term “refugee” whilst discussing the crisis. The study measured how throughout last year ‘migrant’ and ‘refugee’ were being used interchangeably, and it could be argued that little Aylan’s images drummed in the potential difference between these two terms.

Like elsewhere the images moved New Zealanders and not-for-profits working with refugees such as ourselves experienced an influx of calls from the general public offering their support. The varied nature of the calls gave us here at ChangeMakers the opportunity to come up with the following list of things you could do in 2016 based on the number of times we engaged with people on these issues.

1. Create space for dialogue between tangata whenua and former refugee communities. The refugees fear whether they would be welcomed, and we were warmed by how many iwi reached out wanting to know more. If you would like to create such spaces for dialogue we would welcome making this an ongoing possibility.

2. Get to know your neighbour. Knowing your neighbours is a good way to build social connections, and if your neighbour happens to be a former refugee you can relax with all the assumptions and break the ice. A social connection is good for theirs and your wellbeing, will harness neighbourliness and create social cohesion. Let’s build on our cultural development and social capital.

3. Learn about refugee issues locally and globally. Right now we are all focused on the Syrian crisis whilst a pivotal report closer to home like “The Unwanted Rohingya” by Amnesty International could go amiss. Are we really discussing the refugee crisis or simply reacting to the most recent catastrophe? What is our role in the Pacific given Australia’s ongoing breach of human rights and international law when it comes to detention of refugees? What about the protracted refugee situation of Burmese in Thailand? We know there are plenty of you who want to be debating these concerns. Create the space, and the debate.

4. Get to know your local refugee organisation. We work with amazing organisations who respond to refugees across the country. Unfortunately due to lack of resources they often don’t invest in the profile they deserve. This year you could be supporting that local organisation by taking the first step of learning about their work. If you want a copy of the list of refugee organisations across New Zealand, then contact us.

5. Nothing happens without funding. Filippo Grandi (incoming UNHCR Commissioner) highlighted the decline in funding as one of the negative trends when it comes to making a dent in responding to the ongoing refugee crisis. Charities in New Zealand also continue to face cuts, and challenges to sustain their ongoing work. This year donate the dollars for a cup of coffee to your local charity. They will triple the human result of that goodness right here in New Zealand.

6. Campaign for specialised mental health service provision in all resettlement cities. That is right. We are asking you to reach out to your local Councillor, MP, Priest or Imam and get them to move and shake on how important specialised mental health services are in each and every resettlement city for those who have experienced trauma. We want our fellow New Zealanders to access basic healthcare as part of their resettlement package so that they get a head start to a brighter future for New Zealand.

We get that this is an overwhelming issue and it is hard to navigate where you could start. Let’s start with becoming proactive citizens who love peace more than war.

Tayyaba Khan is the CEO of ChangeMakers Refugee Forum, a not-for-profit based in Wellington with a vision to see New Zealanders of refugee background participating fully in New Zealand life.

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